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‘A badge of honor’: North Texas House lawmakers censured by fellow Republicans. Why?

In World
June 12, 2024

Three North Texas lawmakers were censured by the Texas House GOP Caucus for campaigning against fellow Republican caucus members.

The lawmakers — Arlington Rep. Tony Tinderholt, Fort Worth Rep. Nate Schatzline and Midlothian Rep. Brian Harrison — could have faced stiffer penalties. Instead the five-member Caucus Executive Committee voted to censure and condemn their conduct “in the strongest terms,” according to letters shared on X by a reporter for The Texan. Versions of the letters sent to Harrison and Schatzline notifying them of the censure was later obtained by the Star-Telegram. Rep. Steve Toth, a Houston-area Republican, was also censured.

“It’s silly that they’ve done this, trying to uphold a rule that is nothing more than an incumbent protection program,” Schatzline said in a Tuesday interview.

He defended campaigning with statewide Republicans to fight against “liberal Republicans and elect “true conservatives.”

“We’re proud of what we did,” Schatzline said.

Tinderholt was not immediately available for comment.

The censures follows a heated primary season during which Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton aimed to unseat a number of Republicans who opposed their priorities. Abbott campaigned against a number of House incumbents who do not support his “school choice” plan that would create a voucher-like program called education savings accounts. Paxton campaigned against fellow Republicans who voted for his impeachment. Paxton was later acquitted in his Senate trial.

In a news release late Monday, Tinderholt, Schatzline, Harrison and Toth announced they’d been censured. They’d previously raised alarms about possible expulsion from the caucus.

“We were notified tonight we have been CENSURED by the Texas House GOP Caucus for campaigning with Gov. Abbott, Sen. Cruz, Lt. Gov Patrick, AG Paxton, and Comm. Miller against liberal incumbents,” the four lawmakers said in a joint statement. “We would’ve happily been expelled from the Texas House GOP Caucus, which worked with Democrats to help re-elect liberal Speaker Dade Phelan.

We are proud to have helped many true conservatives join the Texas House; something we will continue to do, regardless of any absurd caucus rules designed to protect the uniparty swamp. At a time when Republicans should be unifying against Democrats, the Caucus is divisively punishing conservatives. Despite this action, we will continue fighting for Republicans in November … and for LIBERTY!”

Caucus rules prohibit lawmakers from “financially supporting or campaigning for an opponent against another member of the Caucus,” the letter reads. The rules were adopted to eliminate discord and promote solidarity, the letter reads.

“You may wish to disregard them, but it is our responsibility as officers to carry them out to the best of our abilities and enforce them when necessary,” the letter reads. “There were certainly punishments that would have been more severe and, while we believe your actions warrant those, we recognize it is in the best interest of the Caucus to come together and move past your efforts to divide us.

Ahead of the 89th Legislative Session, our mission as a Caucus Executive Committee is to unify our membership so that we can pass sound conservative policies on behalf of the Texans we all represent. We hope you will set aside your grievances and join us in that effort moving forward.

The censure comes after Rep. Glenn Rogers, a Graford Republican whose district includes Mineral Wells and Weatherford, sent a May 28 letter to caucus leadership raising concern about the lawmakers’ involvement in the Republican primaries. Abbott campaigned against Rogers after he opposed Abbott’s education savings account priority.

He wrote that “removal of rogue members would allow subsequent campaigning against them in future election cycles.

“This would help preserve the integrity of the Caucus, the Texas House and the State of Texas,” Rogers said in the letter.

Texas GOP Caucus Chair Tom Oliverson, a Cypress Republican who is running for House Speaker, said caucus leadership is required to investigate complaints alleging rule violations. In 2022, there was a similar situation when the caucus voted against expulsion.

“In their defense, I would say, I was there in 2019 when this rule was adopted, and I don’t think we ever contemplated a circumstance where you would have that many statewide elected officials and the party also intruding into a member’s primary race,” Oliverson said in an interview. “I think it speaks to the fact that if there’s any work left to be done on this matter, it’s not the matter itself. It’s the rule not working as it was intended.”

Oliverson said, speaking as an individual member of the Texas House, he personally thinks the rules should be repealed.

“As caucus chair, I think my obligation is to make sure, my duty is to make sure that all the members have a voice and a process by which they can participate in amending our bylaws to make them work better,” he said.

He expects the matter to be brought up for discussion, possibly at the caucus’ October retreat ahead of the legislative session that begins in January 2025.

Harrison, whose district spans Ellis County, called the censure “pathetic” and “a joke.” The letters note that Harrison and Schatzline were found to have participated or assisted in the “campaign of an opponent against another member of the Caucus.”

The rules prohibiting funding or campaigning against a fellow caucus member are “profoundly stupid,” he said, noting that he’d always choose to “fight for real Republicans over liberal Republicans who have betrayed our voters for far too long.”

The caucus is “effectively worthless,” Harrison said.

“As far as I’m concerned, this censure is a badge of honor,” Harrison said.

Harrison didn’t say one way or another whether he plans to remain a caucus member.

“Let’s let the dust settle from the censure,” he said. “And look, as far as I’m concerned, I’m considering many options going forward. But what I am committed to doing is what I promised my voters, and that’s to maximizing the Liberty in their lives and to reducing the crushing burden of government at all levels. That’s what I care about. I don’t give a rip honestly about some association in Austin.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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